By: Elena Grace Flores
The placement of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in the South China Sea can easily support its presence for missions such as law enforcement, or search and rescue when needed. Coast Guard vessels are surely less provocative than warships and confrontations between them and Chinese ships cannot trigger much military escalation. The U.S. Coast Guard cutters are careful in intercepting Chinese civilian vessels may it be fishing boats or others to avoid being accused of human rights violations.
As reported in the link below: Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, director of operations for U.S. Pacific Command, recently pointed out, it is highly unlikely that an interaction between military vessels sparks a conflict in the South China Sea. Civilian vessels, however, are another story. Montgomery said, “My worst maritime experiences have been with fishing boats. … The highest risk is associated with non-military vessels.” Compounding this risk, any action taken by the U.S. Coast Guard towards Chinese civilians would be a propaganda victory for the Chinese government, cementing their claims of American aggression.
Therefore the U.S. resorted to training and equipping the coast guards of their regional partners. The United States has worked with the Philippines in 2015 via the U.S. Navy training operation Exercise Balikatan in 2016, and the training of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force for expeditionary warfare. Also in Vietnam last month, President Obama acknowledged the importance of the Vietnamese Coast Guard in their area of responsibility and assured them that the United States would continue to give training on maritime law enforcement to improve their capabilities to perform their duties in the South China Sea.